Russian River Valley Wines

The wine region of California is filled with hundreds of interesting stories, families, and grape varietals. Each American Viticultural Area (AVA) has its specific properties, weather, products, and history. In this article, we are going to talk about the Russian River Valley AVA (Also known as the Russian River AVA).  Along with the Alexander Valley AVA, this wine region is known for its cool climate varietals, which provide exceptional wines, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which Russian River Valley is most commonly known for.

The History of the Russian River Valley AVA

While the Russian River Valley got its 'AVA' status in 1983, its story goes back many years. It all started approximately in 1876; many immigrants that came from Mediterranean countries began planting vines in the area. At the time, these vineyards were just personal gardens that the families used for their consumption rather than selling or exporting. In that year, the Russian River region produced over 500,000 gallons of wine in 7,000 acres of land. 

It wasn't until the 20th century that people started to create commercial wineries and vineyards in the land. By that period, about 200 wineries were working in that area. The first wineries established in the Russian River Valley region were the Martini & Prati Winery, the Korbel Champagne Cellars, the Santa Rosa Wine Company, and the Foppiano Winery.

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Prohibition in the United States of 1920

From 1920 to 1933, winemakers over the country had a hard time producing and exporting their products. This was because a nationwide constitutional ban on alcoholic beverages was imposed in that period. Over those years, winemakers couldn't produce, import, transport, or sell their products, which gave a hard strike to their finances. The winemakers in the Russian River Valley were also affected by this ban; many wineries in the region had to go out of business since they weren't getting any profits from their work.

There were many methods that some winemakers used to survive that long-term ban. Some tried to produce and sell wine illegally, which was a problem for them, and some others tried rum-running wine with a base of sugar and water. Rum-running is also an illegal method that consists of smuggling alcoholic beverages over land. When the prohibition phase ended, the remaining working vineyards started selling their grapes in bulk to jug wine producers. Jug wine refers to a more affordable type of wine that was sold in a large jug. These jugs usually came in 750-ML to 5-liter jugs.

Discovering the Russian River Valley's Potential

When 1960 arrived, the people working in the region started to see the potential of the land to produce local wine. From 1960 to 1970, the focus shifted from producing all kinds of crops for selling or personal consumption to the production of premium wines. The winemakers Joe Rochioli Jr and Joseph Swan saw an interest in making Pinot Noir on their land. From that point on, the Russian River Valley vineyards became important producers of quality wines in California.  According to Foppiano Vineyards, they were the first to produce wines that included the name of the region on their labels. Their 1973 vintage included the words "Russian River" in its label, which was shown proudly by the company. On the other hand, Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates and E & J Gallo Winery invested in the Russian River land. E & J Gallo purchased the Laguna Ranch vineyard to produce premium Chardonnay, which had "Gallo of Sonoma" in its label, and the company also purchased the Twin Valley Ranch to produce the "MacMurray Ranch" label, which made a reference to the previous owner, the actor Fred MacMurray.

E & G Gallo Winery's competition, Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates, spent about 12 million dollars to establish its label "La Crema" in the Russian River Valley wine region. Later in 1983, the Russian River Valley region finally got approved for its AVA status, becoming a popular wine region for many people in California. As the years passed, Pinot Noir became more popular among consumers, making a land expansion possible in 2003. The Russian River Valley region went from 4,000 acres to over 12,000 thanks to that expansion.

About the Russian River Valley AVA

This wine region entails the Sebastopol and Santa Rosa area from the south and the Healdsburg and Forestville area in the north. The most remarkable thing about the area is that it mainly has a cool climate, which allows for unique plantings and products. This area is heavily affected by constant fog waves caused by the Pacific Ocean, which is near the area. There are over 300 wineries in the area, and there's an annual production rate of 200,000 cases, making it one of the most important wine regions in the entire country. The Russian River Valley entails about 16% of Sonoma County's wine region. The most popular varietals grown in the area are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which make up about 70% of the plantings. However, winemakers in the area still produce other varieties such as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Some of the most popular wineries that you can find in Russian River Valley AVA are the Gary Farrel Vineyards, the Rochioli Vineyards & Winery, the Copain Vineyards, and the Macrostie Winery. However, there are many more places that you can visit; each one has its own story and products that make them unique in their own way.


As we stated before, the most popular varietals grown in the Russian River Valley AVA are the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which are acclaimed throughout the country. The Chardonnay entails a medium-bodied white wine that comes in a wide variety of tastes such as apple, pear, or lemon-peel. In some cases, you can get slight vanilla and pineapple flavors. Russian River's Chardonnay provides flavors ranging from pineapple, apple, and pear, and it has a medium rate of acidity. On the other hand, the Pinot Noir comes with a sweeter flavor of cherry and strawberry, mild acidity, and pale color. This pale color didn't appeal to some customers, making winemakers in the area employ different preparation techniques to alter the color. Some other winemakers increased sugar and alcohol levels and decreased the pyrazine compounds of the grapes to achieve a sweeter taste. Overall, there is a wide range of Pinot Noir flavors that you can find in the Russian River Valley.

While the most popular varietals are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, some winemakers have found other vineyard locations that allow them to grow other popular varieties such as Zinfandel and Syrah. These don't make up a lot of the planting area of Russian Valley, but there's still a high rate of production for these varietals, and they are also highly acclaimed among customers. Since the wine region is so large, several microclimates were found by winemakers. These allow winemakers to grow other types of grapes successfully. Here are some other popular varietals grown in the area:

• Cabernet Sauvignon
• Merlot
• Sauvignon Blanc
• Pinot Gris
• Gewürztraminer 
• Sangiovese
• Alicante Bouschet
• Petit Verdot
• Malbec
• Pinotage
• And many more


The Russian River Valley AVA is a place with a lot of history, and it has been exporting quality wines for many years. With so many types of varietals and vineyards, it makes this wine region one of the most important ones in the country. Visiting its wineries and vineyards is definitely an experience you can't forget.